Costs for pure vanilla have risen to near-record levels and are unlikely to fall anytime soon, leaving many Canadian bakeries trying to adjust to the higher costs.

The cost of vanilla has been creeping up for at least five years now, thanks to increased demand as consumers started avoiding products with artificial colours and flavours. Even big candy and chocolate makers such as Hershey's and Nestle announced they were moving away from artificial vanilla in favour of the real thing.

But that increased demand ran smack into a drop in supply last spring, when a huge cyclone raced through Madagascar, destroying 30 per cent of the island nation’s vanilla crop.

Since Madagascar supplies approximately 80 per cent of the world’s vanilla, the crop destruction was huge for the vanilla industry, sending prices soaring.

Pure vanilla used to sell for as little as US$20 per kilogram in 2012; last year, the price rose to US$600 per kg.

While the price has dropped somewhat, to $550 per kg, bakers are still trying to adjust. According to several Ottawa bakeries, a bulk order of four litres of pure vanilla paste used to cost about $180; now, it’s more than $600.

Ottawa’s Three Tarts Bakery spends nearly $2,000 a month on vanilla -- a price they say they’re willing to pay to avoid artificial flavourings.

“(Artificial vanilla) is not the same,” says co-owner Sheila Lynch. “Vanilla has such a beautiful flavour, it adds flavour to everything. I don't think we could bake without it; really, it goes in every product here.”

There is hope that this year will be a better year for vanilla supplies. According to a Dec. 4 report from Aust & Hachmann, a vanilla supplier based in Pointe-Claire, Que., prices will likely stabilize in 2018, but food manufacturers should expect to continue paying higher-than-normal prices.

Still, vanilla is likely to remain the second most expensive spice (after saffron) -- even more expensive per kilogram than silver. And there is little hope that new growers can enter the market because vanilla is such a labour-intensive crop to grow.

Vanilla beans grow on vines that take several years to mature. The flowers of the vine need to be hand-pollinated because there are so few bees in Madagascar. The beans must be hand-picked at the perfect ripeness and then dried for several weeks in the sun. Even then, several kilos of beans yield only a small amount of pure vanilla paste.

For bakeries like Pasticceria Gelateria Italiana in Ottawa, the spike in vanilla prices is challenging, but owner Joe Calabro says since nothing can replace the flavour of real vanilla, he will find a way to adjust.

“You have to have it. So yes the price increases but you try to balance it out,” he says.

With a report from CTV Ottawa’s Annie Bergeron-Oliver